Updated: Jul 27, 2020
There has always been a lot of fuss around breakfast… Is is or is it not the most important meal of the day? I still think it is, but... it does not need to happen first thing in the morning: at least a 12h overnight fast has numerous advantages, from improving digestion and absorption, to the anti-ageing benefits of autophagy.
What you have to break your fast can:
impact how you will feel for most of the day
sway your cravings
regulate your alertness and mood during the day
influence how well you sleep at night! Now I've got your attention!
Allow me to get a little bit technical. Melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone, is manufactured from the neurotransmitter serotonin, which in turn is key for a positive mood. Serotonin requires specific nutrients to be synthesised, namely the amino acid tryptophan and the vitamin B6. A published in 2012 suggests that a balanced breakfast rich in these two nutrients can promote a morning-typed typology (in other words, getting ready for action). In this study researchers in Japan compared the effect of different types of breakfast foods in school children, and found that children who consumed the traditional Japanese breakfast (consisting of raw egg, dried fish, fermented soybeans, sesame seeds, dried seaweed, and spinach). Don’t let this put you off... some other food combinations can also provide these nutrients.
They also found that this effect was enhanced by sunlight exposure after having breakfast, which seems to accelerate the synthesis of serotonin in the pineal gland. I would also add that a little morning exercise can help, as physical activity makes tryptophan more available to cross the brain barrier where it is converted to serotonin. Interestingly, the results obtained correlated with higher sleep quality, presumably because of melatonin. A similar more recent study performed in adults confirmed the effects of tryptophan-rich breakfast and light exposure on serotonin and melatonin production. So, what's the magic formula?
Foods rich in tryptophan and B6: fish, chicken, turkey, eggs (free-range, please), whey protein, cheese, spinach, seeds (sesame, pumpkin).
Some good carbs: veg, a piece of fruit, or whole grain "real" cereals (such as brown rice or oats; not boxed breakfast cereals please!).
A bit of morning sunshine (Not possible? A sun simulating light can do the trick!).
A brisk walk, run or cycle in the morning.
Sweet or savoury... is there a difference in the effect?
Simple answer... Yes! A nutrient-packed savoury breakfast, rich in protein and good fats, provides sustained energy, helps avoid the much dreaded sugar-rush (aka sugar roller coaster), and believe it or not reduces cravings for sweets later in the day. Try savoury! Here are some ideas you can try:
Chicken and rice omelette
Super banana smoothie with nuts and chia seeds
Salmon and rice temaki (sushi cone made with nori seaweed: tradicional Japanese breakfast on the go!)
Soft boiled eggs with avocado and seeds
Or go Nordic with some gravlax, spinach and poached egg!
What do you eat for breakfast to make you feel at your best?